With Nokia, Samsung and HTC itself having recently released Windows Phone 8 flagships, can a cut-price device stand up against these high-profile handsets, and will Microsoft’s new platform perform well on a mid-range smartphone?
- Dual-core, 1GHz Qualcomm processor
- 4-inch super LCD display
- 4GB internal storage
- 5 megapixel camera
- 720p video recording at 30fps
- 10.3mm thick
- Windows Phone 8
- 1700mAh battery
- Beats Audio
Design and Build
With a polycarbonate body and textured backplate the HTC 8S has a comfortable and ergonomic design that differs quite significantly from the Taiwanese firm’s recent Android efforts. The device is available in a range of colours, possibly inspired by the design of the Windows Phone 8 software itself, and bears a close resemblance to the HTC 8X.
Pulling off the same design trick that has been seen in the bodywork of that high-end device, the backplate of the HTC 8S curves outwards towards its edges, creating an impression that the handset is much thinner than it actually is. At 10.3mm thick the device is not amongst the slimmest around but feels much more slender due to the clever way in which its rear panel is constructed.
Standing out from the main body is a lower section of a contrasting colour which, when removed, gives access to the SIM and microSD card slots, with up to 32GB of external storage being supported.
Considering the lack of bulk in the HTC 8S, the size of the display is impressive. The handset is little bigger than the iPhone 4S but, at 4-inches, squeezes in an extra half inch of screen space, offering a suitable platform for its software but keeping the whole handset quite compact.
The super LCD display doesn’t quite match the dazzling quality seen on the HTC 8X but still performs well, although small text on webpages can be difficult to read without zooming in. However, the way in which the Windows Phone 8 user interface is designed and laid out is very crisp and clear, making up for any lack of definition from the display itself. The inclusion of a lower-spec display is no doubt a cost-cutting measure on the part of HTC and while the screen isn’t as bright and impressive as that on the WP8 flagships it is more than enough.
Under the Hood
Keeping the HTC 8S running is a dual-core, 1GHz Qualcomm processor, the slowest we’ve so far seen on a Windows Phone 8 device. Despite the lower speed, the processor doesn’t appear to have any problems with handling the handset’s functions and everything runs smoothly. Hold-ups in the fluid way in which the WP8 user interface animates itself, and any sort of lag at all is conspicuous by its absence
The only noticeably slow aspect of the HTC 8S is the speed at which it loads webpages. However, the performance is comparable to many mid-range Android devices and the difference between what is seen here and that of high-enders such as the Nokia Lumia 920 is only a matter of a few seconds and nothing that causes real trouble.
Considering that the HTC 8S has a less powerful, 1700mAh battery than its high-end cousin we were surprised to find that its battery life was noticeably longer. The device easily lasted a day of moderate use on one charge, with enough power left to last into a second day.
Usage during this time included taking photos, browsing online and playing games and while the battery may not perform as well under heavy use it is still impressive nonetheless. We imagine that this increase in battery life is due to the less resource-heavy display, as bright screens generally require a huge amount of power.
A slight drop in display quality in exchange for a big increase in battery life is a good trade-off and something which may well make the HTC 8S very appealing to consumers.
Operating System and User Interface
Windows Phone 8 has grabbed many headlines recently, with the slew of handsets released for the new platform garnering mostly good reviews. Although having had its foundation software rebuilt, Windows Phone 8 keeps the best features of its predecessor and evolves them into a powerful operating system.
The distinctive Live Tiles that make up much of the user interface can now be resized, giving an extra dimension to the homescreen and allowing it to contain even more information. Along with this the People Hub, which pulls all of the user’s contacts together and places updates, messages and contact details in one place, has been revamped, with extra features which allow the user to group contacts together and share messages, calendars, photos and the like.
Even with the less-powerful processor that we mentioned earlier, the software performs brilliantly with the lack of lag in Windows Phone 8 lending itself well to intensive tasks like multi-tasking.
HTC’s 8S is refreshingly clear of bloatware, with just a few apps added by the manufacturer to expand the functions of Windows Phone 8. A number of small additions such as the very useful Converter (which converts currencies, weights, measurements and so on) are included but the main addition is Photo Editor.
Offering a platform for the post-production of images, Photo Editor gives control over aspects such as colour and brightness as well as presenting a range of vintage effect filters Windows Phone 8 doesn’t have anywhere near the number of photo-editing apps available for it that iOS can boast so the inclusion of Photo Editor is a good thing.
Along with this, Windows Phone 8 users get access to 7GB of free space courtesy of Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud-storage service, which is upgradeable to 25GB at a price. With only 4GB of internal storage available within the HTC 8S the added SkyDrive space is very useful, providing an easy-to-access online place for extra photos, music and movies to be kept.
SkyDrive also integrates brilliantly with the WP8 user interface, making it easy to upload documents form the Office app and images from the photo gallery.
Camera and Video
The HTC 8S’ 5 megapixel camera isn’t capable of producing the same high-quality images as Samsung’s ATIV S or the Nokia Lumia 920 but is good enough to create quality photos that are ideal for sharing on social networks. The compact size of the handset and fast performance of the software makes the HTC 8S ideal for quick snaps.
The Windows Phone 8 camera app itself works brilliantly, providing a minimalist interface that makes functions easy to access. Especially impressive is the autofocus feature which reacts quickly when the app is opened, again making the HTC 8S great for quick capture.
Video can be recorded at 720p at 30fps and although it can be occasionally jumpy its quality is certainly passable for a mid-range device. An advantage of 720p video is that the resulting files are smaller than if they were captured at 1080p, making them better suited for uploading to a variety of online services.
Connectivity and Multimedia
HTC’s 8S has Bluetooth support and a microUSB socket mounted on the bottom of the handset. However, Windows Phone 8 has introduced over-the-air updates and this, along with the SkyDrive support, means it’s possible to set up the handset and transfer files, music and other media without ever connecting it to a computer.
Beats Audio is also built in to the HTC 8S, continuing its manufacturer’s long-running association with the sound tech firm. While audio performance isn’t quite up to the standard of the HTC 8X it is still clear and crisp, and the HTC 8S outperforms many comparably-priced devices in terms of sound quality.
Performance and Verdict
HTC has done a brilliant job of bringing Windows Phone 8 to an affordable mid-range device and whilst the handset has a slightly-lower spec than the likes of the Nokia Lumia 920 and lacks the storage space of Samsung’s ATIV S, its price is considerably lower. A small drop in performance is a result of a big drop in price, and this is no bad thing at all.
HTC has also made its cuts cleverly. With an operating system that looks as good as Windows Phone 8 the handset can get away with a slightly lower quality of display. Similarly, the 5 megapixel camera is not as powerful as those on the flagships but still performs well enough for the kind of quick snaps for which a mid-range handset may be used.
While being a contender in the Windows Phone 8 world, the HTC 8S also outperforms many similarly-priced Android devices such as the HTC Desire X and offers a real alternative to Google’s mobile platform. If Microsoft is to make a real dent in Android’s market share it may well be with a mid-range handset rather than a flagship. And the HTC 8S is more than up to the job.